Moderated by Rick Badie
Jobs are scarce, but likely even scarcer for those formerly incarcerated. Employers often balk at such hires; prisoners generally lack skills to land jobs with decent pay. Today, a director for the Urban Institute looks at their re-entry to the workplace through the lens of Georgia and elsewhere. I write about a DeKalb County nonprofit that hopes to teach “hard-to-place” individuals the art of auto detailing.
Pathway to jobs can be tricky
By Nancy G. La Vigne
In 2013, more than 21,000 prisoners re-entered society from Georgia’s Department of Corrections. What can we do to ensure a smooth transition? How do we lower their odds of reoffending?
Jobs are a huge part of the answer. We know from research that former prisoners with jobs are less likely to go back to prison.
Many of these men and women are not strangers to the workforce. They held down jobs before they were incarcerated. They actively want and seek legal employment. It’s in everyone’s interest that they find it. The pathway to gainful employment can be tricky.
Many have low levels of education. They also face employers who are unwilling to give them a chance. For many, it’s pointless to fill out applications that include criminal history questions. These tiny check boxes can send applications right into the circular file.
While efforts to “ban the box” are spreading, more could be done to educate employers. Candidates should have an opportunity to explain the nature of their crime, when it was committed, and what they’ve learned from their experience.
How else can we give returning citizens a fair shot at succeeding, while keeping the public safe?
Research points to programs that develop employment and educational skills as well as on-the-job training. Such in-prison services have been shown to reduce recidivism and improve the chances of securing and retaining jobs upon release. Georgia’s Prison Industries Enhancement Certification Program aims to provide a realistic work environment where prisoners can develop marketable job skills.
Similarly, work release programs, where men and women live in a correctional facility but work in the community, can bridge workforce entry.
Such programs represent good investments in preventing recidivism, but on their own, they are unlikely to have a big impact. Preparing for a job, even getting hired, often is not enough. Research underscores the importance of sufficient wages and directs our focus to not just job acquisition, but job retention.
Former prisoners who earned less than $7 per hour were twice as likely to return to prison as those who earned $10 an hour or more. This makes sense. We know the vast majority of offenders don’t pursue illegal activities on a full-time basis; most hold down some type of job. But if jobs don’t provide living wages, the temptation toward law-breaking is likely to be strong.
Keeping a job is arguably more important than finding one in the first place. Offering not just job skills, but life skills to returning prisoners, is critical. Learning the importance of being prompt, following instructions and communicating effectively are skills that increase job retention.
Georgia is making strides in re-entry, due in part to the Governor’s Office of Transition, Support and Reentry, led by Jay Neal. The Peach State and others are beginning to understand that successful integration benefits not just the prisoner, but for everyone.
Nancy G. La Vigne is director of the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center.
By Rick Badie
Milton Meeks knows the difficulty ex-offenders face trying to land jobs. It’s something two of his brothers experienced firsthand. This DeKalb County businessman believes everybody deserves a second chance, a helping hand on a path to self-sufficiency.
So Meeks has founded a nonprofit school to teach and train “hard-to-hire” individuals — parolees and juvenile offenders — the art of professional car care. Veterans, too. The Roosevelt School of Auto Detailing and Reconditioning in Lithonia hopes to hosts its inaugural class this fall.
“We all need a second chance,” said Meeks, owner of Lithonia Auto Transport, a car-hauling operation. “You have a lot of people who will give people chances, but there are more who won’t.”
For 16 years, Meeks knows the car detailing business, having owned and operated Meeks Auto Salon Inc. of Stone Mountain. His crews waxed, buffed and repaired dents at dealerships across metro Atlanta, among them Heritage Cadillac, Baranco Lincoln Mercury and Don Jackson Lincoln Mercury. He sold the business in 2004 but says a market for skilled car care specialists exists.
“There’s a need in the auto industry, because a lot of the older guys are getting ready to leave the industry,” he said. “We don’t want to teach them just to be detailers. We want to teach them to be ‘detail technicians.’ ”
Robert Davis, owner of Davis Collision Repair in Stone Mountain, has known Meeks for nearly a decade and knows his work.
“He’s got the experience and the guys to teach the skills,” Davis said. “I don’t know the details of his program, but anything that can help youth get on the right track, I’m down with that.”
So is Joe Clanton, who ran the sales department at Heritage Cadillac when Meeks had a contract to detail cars there.
“I’m very supportive of what he wants to do with the program, but I also see the business side,” he said. “It will be a tough road to get dealerships to make that kind of investment to buy into his program.”
The Roosevelt School will consist of a 10-week program in which participants will learn how to buff, wax, repair dings and interiors. Classes such as resume writing, job interviewing and entrepreneurialship will be offered as well, thanks to partnerships with various organizations. The goal: to have students graduate free of a criminal mindset, with a job in hand that might lead to a career, perhaps business ownership.
The cost of program is $5,500, an amount Meeks hopes to defray through investors, scholarships and federal grants. A golf fundraiser is scheduled for May 10 at the North Fulton Golf Course. Other events are planned throughout the year.
“I want to start off with at least 10 students,” Meeks said. “If I can save one person, I think I would have done something. We all need a second chance.”
For more information, visit http://www.schoolofautodetailing.com/.
Prevent cruel deaths of children
By Mary Margaret Oliver
Why does Georgia require autopsies and fatality reviews of children who die in a manner that is “suspicious or unusual” from SIDS, from unintentional or intentional injures, or when unattended by a physician?
What has Georgia’s Child Fatality Review Commission accomplished in its review of suspicious child deaths since 1990? House Bill 923, introduced as part of Gov. Nathan Deal’s 2014 legislative package, attempts to answer these questions.
In 1990, when the General Assembly created the Child Fatality Review Commission, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation employed no doctor pathologists in its medical examiner’s office. Two PhDs in microbiology performed autopsies at the request of local coroners elected to a county office with no qualifications other than being at least 21 years old.
Although coroners are still elected in approximately 154 counties, the GBI today employs 14 medical pathologists, one a dual board-certified pediatrician and forensics pathologist; they performed about 490 autopsies on children in 2013. We clearly have made progress in the professionalization of the state’s medical examiner’s office. We can assume such progress assists local law enforcement to prosecute and make accountable those who abuse and murder children.
The child death review process, however, has not accomplished the legitimate goal of preventing children’s deaths, nor has it improved data sharing among state agencies that touch the lives of vulnerable children. HB 923, along with new federal legislation passed in late 2012, will enhance Georgia’s child death review in the following ways:
• The Child Fatality Review Commission will be moved from the Office of Child Advocate to the GBI, which will provide greater coordination among law enforcement agencies.
• Multiple conflicting confidentiality statutes and regulations will be amended to remove barriers to data sharing; 2009 legislation that gave additional authority to the Department of Family and Children Services to redact certain facts from child abuse records will be repealed.
• The Department of Public Health will have an enhanced role, with epidemiology professionals to identify with greater precision children who are most susceptible to neglect and abuse. At a minimum, the protection of medically fragile children should be improved.
The Child Fatality Review Commission has an important state function, but it needs to be updated and refocused on prevention and data sharing in a more precise and scientific manner. Gov. Deal’s legislation should pass. Together, we can redouble our efforts to prevent the unnecessary and cruel deaths of children.
State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, represents District 82.